Merry Christmas! For this year, I’d like to talk about anime, and not just specific shows that I watched this year. I’d still mention some of them, don’t worry! It’s just that enough people are doing that already, so I’d like to bring something new to the table.
This year, I started writing harder. Not hard enough as I would like to, but it’s a start, and one of the steps I took was educating myself by reading writing books.
One book I read was 20 Master Plots. I know, boring title, but I seriously learned a lot, and if you’re even remotely interested in writing or understanding fiction, you should give the book a read. It’s going to point out things that seem like stupid cliches to you and explain why writers do them, and suddenly they make sense and you wonder if you stories suck solely because you’ve been trying to avoid them all the time.
One of the things I learned from the book is that there are essentially two kinds of plots: the plot of the body (plot-driven) and the plot of the mind (character-driven). At that time, I had been watching Space Battleship Yamato 2199, and I thought, “man, people don’t make anime like this any more”. I wondered what led to that thought, and remembered the book, and realized that Yamato 2199, despite its use of modernisms to make a 40 year-old story palatable to current viewers, is clearly a plot-driven story.
In the old days, people cared more about plot than character–it was more important if Odysseus could survive this obstacle than, say, his inner thoughts and feelings, or if his ordeal has made him discover something himself. Characters acted out the plot, and the story rested on whether the series of events was interesting and plausible enough to merit turning the page. In Yamato, the crew of the titular ship needs to go to the distant planet Iskandar and receive alien technology that could reverse the Earth’s destruction. The crew is important, yes, but the story is bigger than them. They are merely instruments to the plot. That doesn’t mean they aren’t important, of course not, but they aren’t the main draw of the story. Think of the difference between a rear-wheel drive and a front-wheel drive car.
Why did I think of that thought again? Well, most anime nowadays is of the character-driven variety. A lot of anime fans use character development as a standard measure of a show’s quality–as flawed as this line of thinking is, it says a lot that anime fans nowadays expect interesting, organic characterization from what they watch. They are invested on the characters, and want to see how circumstances change them, for better or for worse. Even if the show is plot-driven, they try to judge it by using a metric that’s primarily reserved for character-driven stories.
What makes an anime either? Is the show focused on people, or (big) events? Which part is stronger, the characters or the plot? What drives the show, what keeps people hooked? This may be hard to distinguish at first, but an answer will emerge if you reflect enough.
A quick list I made, using my own thoughts. Feel free to fight me over these (though I will most probably fight back!):
- The original Mobile Suit Gundam
- Patlabor (movies)
- Death Note
- Code Geass
- Attack on Titan
- Patlabor (TV)
- Hidamari Sketch
- Tiger & Bunny
What I noticed is that anime is leaning heavily on its characters nowadays. Why? I think it’s because character merchandise sells. If we fall in love with the characters, we’re more eager to buy something about them. A great plot is great, but it’s not really something that you could sell outside of the anime itself. What’s amusing is that Yamato 2199 is aiming for more attractive female characters, so that it could sell merch of them. Their character arcs stick out, because they weren’t there before; the original Yamato was more of a sausagefest. (It’s still a damn good show and I suggest you watch it.)
Also, if you have a character, you could place them in many different plots. If you stick different characters into the same plot, that’s called rehashing, and people will see right through it. The latter isn’t as interesting.
So what do I prefer? Again, anime fans nowadays prefer character-driven stuff. They even judge plot-driven anime by the same stick, which leads to some sad results. For me, characters stick around in my memory far more than plots, because I tend to think of fictional people as real after living with them for a long enough time. But with the knowledge that my studies have armed me, I can appreciate a good plot for what it is, and not judge it unfairly for what it’s not.
What about you?